Can the PCB be trusted?
Will the PCB get its act together or is Pakistan cricket doomed to a fate worse than being considered ‘second-rate’?
Among the many voices that have been consistently critical of the authorities running cricket in Pakistan is that of legendary captain and all-rounder Imran Khan. His denigration of the Board of Cricket Control in Pakistan (BCCP) went well beyond the usual player-management friction one may expect in sport.
In the 1992 version of his autobiography, All Round View, Imran has accused the board of incompetence, nepotism, and outright corruption. The chapter discussing this topic is full of quotable incidents and insights into the visibly bungling authority that is the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). From tales of small-minded board officials trying to manipulate players and captains, to stories of criminal negligence in developing the domestic circuit, to accusations of ticket sales fraud; the few pages paint a bleak picture of the what goes on under the control of the ‘cricket bureaucrats’.
He closes his critique of the board with the following sentence:
“Quick and extensive surgery is required if we are not to become a second-rate cricket power.”
A second-rate cricket power?
As the more astute of our cricketing audience will have noticed, we have become a second-rate cricket power. Far from the roaring team of the 80's, widely acknowledged to be one of the fiercest in the world, or even the 90's when an unpredictable but outstandingly talented Pakistan team could be relied on to give tough opposition to any side, today Pakistan fans go into matches with much dread and a little lingering hope.
But the events that are unfolding in Pakistan cricket these days have managed to outstrip even the great Khan’s apocalyptic predictions. Barely two months after the national captain and two strike bowlers were suspended by the ICC, and in the backdrop of their hearings, the young wicket-keeper has done a runner. Zulqarnain Haider disappeared form his hotel room two days after playing a small but crucial role in securing the third One Day International (ODI) for Pakistan against South Africa. On the morning of the fourth ODI, without warning, he was gone. He was later to resurface in the UK, claiming he ran out of fear for his life after receiving threats from bookmakers. He also said that his family (still in Pakistan) are also under threat.
The gambling mafia
Setting alternate scenarios and Haider’s possible ulterior motives aside for a moment, if the situation is to be taken at face value, the episode highlights what has been a lingering issue in Pakistan cricket. While rumours of a gambling mafia’s influencing games in Pakistan have plagued the team for decades now, the true extent and power of the perpetrators is little known. The lack of a whole-hearted effort from authorities to tackle this menace means its perpetrators have never actually been unmasked. It also means the machinery in place for carrying out this task has never been exposed, neither has the dilemma facing players involved in the Pakistani cricketing structure.
The term ‘mafia’ seems to be aptly selected in light of the omerta observed by all those contacted concerning any investigation into the matter of match-fixing. The Qayyum report itself is reminiscent of Michael Corleone’s hearings in the second Godfather movie, with Ataur-Rehman doing several about turns in his allegations against Wasim Akram, news of several witnesses to present evidence who then reneged, and the commission distinctly noting the non-cooperation of those questioned and their reluctance to tell the truth.
Zulqarnain is, of course, not the first player to have been threatened. In fact, it now appears to be normal practice. The Qayyum report also contains the story of Saeed Anwar, who allegedly confessed to receiving instructions to underperform to Javed Burki and committed to relate the same story to the commission. He then returned to Burki to pull out of this commitment as his brother was being threatened. The entire episode was denied by Anwar in front of the committee, except for the part where his brother had been threatened. (The report doesn’t address any investigations into why his brother would be threatened if the incident reported was not true!)
Ataur-Rahman, among his u-turns, also claimed that he had been forced to retract his statement by coercion.
Geoff Lawson, the former Pakistan coach has also reportedly cited an example of strong-arm tactics being used to influence the team. He reportedly told of a selector whose daughter had been threatened. In his highly vocal criticism of Ijaz Butt, he has been defending the actions of the three players accused in England of spot-fixing saying, "If it is the case that these young players are being affected, then there is something very bad with the environment in which Pakistan cricket is being played"
Is the PCB at fault?
If the practice is as rampant as it appears to be, there is one aspect that the media (even the English media) seems to be consciously avoiding. That is the possibility of the complicity of the board in the practice of match-fixing. The PCB’s inability to protect its players has been oft-criticised, but is that where their crime ends? The question that needs to be raised more forcefully is what Yawar Saeed actually thought was going on when his players were openly cavorting around England with a man known to be linked with bookies and match-fixers. The News of the World report also noted the condescending, and abusive tone in which Mazhar Majeed spoke to several players, most prominently, Mohammad Aamir. This is a fact that definitely warrants more investigation into the exact nature of the relationship between bookies and the players.
Much of the suspicious behaviour of the board points to its reluctance to delve very deep into the issue. The Qayyum Commission itself seems to be a bit of a fiasco. Given its time constraints and lack of evidence, it closed with a vague conclusion that all was not above board in the cricket team. Fines and recommendations followed, but nothing concrete. Even these recommendations were ignored by the PCB.
The PCB falling over itself to deny any impropriety in England was also highly suspicious. It seemed to completely rule out the possibility that the players may be guilty. Could this be due to a misplaced need to protect its players? If so, such notions seem to have vanished once the players’ hearings started. The board quickly abandoned their support for the players, cancelling their contracts.
If patterns of corruption are studied (and there is ample opportunity to do so in Pakistan), quite often regulatory bodies appointed to prevent illegal operations get involved with operations for kick-backs. It is not surprsing that the Pakistan Cricket Board is also upholding this time-honoured tradition. It would certainly explain Zulqarnain’s reluctance to go to them for help. It would also explain the reluctance of the board to tackle the issue of match-fixing.
There comes a stage when incompetence reaches such levels that the integrity and intent of a body must be called into question. That stage has long been reached for the Pakistan Cricket Board.
It will be an obvious embarrassment to the country if external forces have to step in to sort out the structure and functioning of the Cricket Board. The rest of the cricketing world’s fast depleting patience with Ijaz Butt and the Pakistani Board may result in just that. Pakistan is already on the brink of being declared a pariah in the cricketing world, firstly due to the security situation and now with constant controversy. Ijaz Butt has been told in no uncertain terms that his antics will not be tolerated by the ICC for long. But will the board get its act together and decide to finally take the issue seriously, or is Pakistan cricket doomed to a fate worse than being considered ‘second-rated’?